in News | 28 SEP 18

Was Van Gogh Inspired to Paint ‘Starry Night’ after Admiring Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave’?

An expert claims that the night sky in Van Gogh’s painting echoes the turbulence of Hokusai’s print

in News | 28 SEP 18

Hokusai, The Great Wave, 1829–33 (detail) and Van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889 (detail). Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Vincent van Gogh may have been inspired to paint his The Starry Night (1889) after viewing Hokusai’s The Great Wave (1829–33), an expert has claimed.

Art historian and Van Gogh specialist Martin Bailey says that the Dutch painter was a noted collector of Japanese prints, and an admirer of The Great Wave, in particular. Bailey notes that Van Gogh even wrote to his brother Theo about the work, describing Hokusai’s waves as ‘claws, the boat is caught in them, you can feel it.’

In a blog for The Art Newspaper, Bailey argues that there is a thread running between the directive force of Hokusai’s turbulent sea, and the swirls Van Gogh painted into his night sky. He points to how in Hokusai’s print, the wave crests over Mount Fuji, while in Van Gogh’s painting, the night sky thrusts towards the hills of Les Alpilles.

Bailey writes that the centre of Van Gogh’s sky carries an ‘extraordinary feature – a whorl of flickering brushstrokes that roll across the canvas, imparting a strong sensation of movement to the scene’. Van Gogh’s mind could have been drawn to the idea of the sea, Bailey writes, noting how both works ‘share a similar colouring of rich blues.’

Starry Night, which Van Gogh painted while a resident of a mental asylum near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, was ‘loosely inspired’ by Hokusai’s work, Bailey suggests. ‘He didn’t have the print with him but he obviously remembered it in great detail. He had a very good memory,’ Bailey told The Guardian.